by Mike Hudson
High priced flood insurance, erosion that eats up your back yard and government inaction are just a few of the joys associated with creekside living in Lackawanna.
For years, residents living along Smokes Creek in all four city wards have been forced to pay for flood insurance even though there is a low risk of flooding.
“Much of the Second Ward is in the flood zone and it has not flooded in decades,” 2nd Ward Councilwoman Anette Iafallo said. “We would like nothing more than to have this flood insurance removed, and dredging is one of the required steps.”
Residents have been paying from $400 to $2,800 annually for flood insurance, depending on the size of their property. Mayor Geoff Szymanski lives in the Second Ward and reportedly pays $800.
“Flood insurance is brutal if you have to pay thousands of dollars for insurance that covers the creek banks and not your personal property,” the mayor said. “I’m disappointed that it’s taking so long.”
Smokes Creek, which runs through the city’s four wards, has not come close to flooding since 1964, Szymanski said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a flood control project at Smokes Creek in the 1960s and straightened the creek out to improve ice flow. Control of the creek was then turned over to the City of Lackawanna.
This year, the state completed a dredging project along some stretches of the waterway, but not enough,
Now, some neighbors in Lackawanna are losing their backyards to Smokes Creek. This is happening on Sharon Parkway, and they want something done about it.
“This is just the beginning of what is going to be a catastrophe for the homes downstream here,” said Thomas DiVito.
DiVito and his wife, Patricia, have lived in their Sharon Parkway home in Lackawanna for 27 years. Their backyard backs up to Smokes Creek, and its banks are rapidly eroding.
“It is unsafe to be standing here. The ground is weakened. I would say we’ve lost 20 to 30 feet at least in this spot here, and it’s moving closer to the back of my house also,” says DiVito.
DiVito put up caution tape between his home and his neighbor’s to discourage people from hanging out along the creek. He says that the stretch of the creek behind their homes was 24 feet wide when he moved in. Now it’s at least twice that.
DiVito’s caution tape is no joke. Fire and police officials had to work together to rescue a woman from the creek two weeks ago after an accidental fall. The Lackawanna Fire Department reported that the woman was rescued from Smokes Creek near South Park Avenue and was then taken to the hospital with unknown injuries.
“I know what the solution is. I want shoring pounded in here back to the original depth of my property, and I want it backfilled so we can stop this,” Divito said.
City officials say they are trying to find funding for the project.
The earliest residents of Smokes Creek didn’t have to worry about flooding, erosion or anything else. The peaceful Erie Indians occupied the banks of the waterway until around 1620, when they were annihilated by the Seneca Nation of Indians swooping down from the east.
The Seneca then sold it to the state of New York in 1842.
No problems were reported until the federal government changed the course of the waterway in the 1960s.
Today, the waterway’s two branches are known as a fisher-man’s mecca, with walleye and salmon being taken near the mouth on Lake Erie near Dunkirk, and brown and brook trout stocked by the state Department of Environmental Conservation drawing anglers into Lackawanna, Blasdell, Hamburg and elsewhere.